Reims Cathedral, former monastery, France

Reims Cathedral, former monastery, France

Reims sights, Reims Cathedral, what to see in Reims, Reims sights, guide to Reims, Reims churches, Reims Cathedral, Reims Cathedral, Reims Cathedral, Notre Dame Reims

The main attraction of Reims is the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims , a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cathedral was built in the 13th century (after Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and Chartres Cathedral). It is one of the most famous monuments of Gothic architecture in France. From the Middle Ages to the 19th century almost all French monarchs were crowned in the cathedral.

Notre Dame Cathedral in Rheims

In the Gallo-Roman period there were thermae on this site, which were replaced by the first cathedral in the 5th century. It was built by Bishop Nicasius and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. In 498 St. Remigius, Bishop of Rheims and Apostle of the Franks, baptized Clovis I, the first king of the Merovingian dynasty, along with 3,000 of his soldiers and cronies, in the Cathedral of Rheims. This moment is considered the conversion of the Salic Franks to Christianity, which became one of the key moments in the history of European Christianity in general. It was then that Reims Cathedral became the place where all the kings and emperors of France were crowned in the future.

History of Rheims Cathedral

Crowning of Charles VII in 1429

In 1027, the coronation of Henry I takes place here. Thanks to the emergence of the legend of St. Glass, the archbishops of Reims gained great political influence and Reims Cathedral became the permanent coronation site for successive rulers of France.

The building of the old cathedral was destroyed by a devastating fire in 12010. A year later, on May 6, the Archbishop of Rheims, Aubry de Umbert, laid the foundations of a new cathedral dedicated to Our Lady. The construction of the cathedral continued uninterruptedly for 20 years. In 1241 the chori, probably the transept, was finished. The main aisle was erected somewhat later. Around 1250 the sculptural decoration of the main – western facade was completed.

Inside the nave, the floor slabs contain a labyrinth of inscriptions used to reconstruct the names of the architects and the year of construction of the various parts of the building. Master Jean d’Orbey erected the choir and transept between 1211 and 1228; Jean de Loup erected the western facade between 1228 and 1244; Gaucher de Rems worked between 1244 and 1252; and Bernard de Soisson between 1252 and 1287. Robert de Cusi (until 1311) completed the work.

During the Centennial War, the cathedral was under siege by the English in 1359-60. After the fall of the city, the English owned Reims and the cathedral until 1429, when the city was liberated by Joan of Arc, enabling the coronation of the dauphin Charles on July 17, 1429.

Reims Cathedral

The Slavic Gospel of Reims

In 1574 the cathedral received the so-called Slavic Gospel of Reims, a parchment document considered a “mysterious oriental manuscript.” Its first part is written in Cyrillic and contains the readings of the festive Gospels according to the rite of the Orthodox Church. But its second part was written in Croatian anglicized Glagolitic for Catholic worship in the Slavonic language. And interestingly enough, it was on this Slavonic manuscript that the French monarchs swore an oath during the coronation.

World War II

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During World War I, Reims was invaded by the Germans and remained in the war zone for four years. In September 1914, the cathedral was turned into a “sea of fire” by a bombardment. The remains of the stained-glass windows were destroyed, including the great rose (partially restored now), and the statues of the cathedral were significantly damaged.

Notre Dame Cathedral of Reims

In 1914, the French writer Romain Rolland published an article “Pro aris” (translated from Latin as “In defense of the altars”) condemning the barbarity of the German troops. The medieval architectural masterpiece was defended by Russian artists from the World of Art association.


The restoration of the temple continues to the present day. In the building of the former bishop’s palace (Palais Du Tau), rebuilt at the end of the 17th century, fragments of the Cathedral’s sculpture, separate statues, and also 15th-century trellises from the workshops of Arras, which depict scenes from King Claudevig’s life, were collected.

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The architecture of Rheims Cathedral

The inside of the cathedral is 138.69 m long. The nave height under the vaults equals 37.95 m.

The western facade of the cathedral is built in the style of mature Gothic. Unlike Notre-Dame de Paris, the towers form a unit with the facade. The portals and windows of the cathedral are decorated with vimpergues (stone openwork fleurons): their lancet ends (pincers) penetrate the second tier, visually breaking the line of eaves and erasing the borders between the tiers. In the second tier high lancet windows and a number of columns and pinnacles increase and visually sharpen the vertical aspiration of the facade.

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One of the highest buildings in France and still considered a pair of towers on the west facade of Notre Dame – their height of 80 meters. The towers could “grow” higher due to the tents topped with spires, but the idea failed. In addition, the plan was to build five additional towers, but that too has sunk into oblivion.

Notre Dame Cathedral in Reims

The central nave with ten aisles, bordered on both sides by two side aisles, rises on three levels – a classic of French Gothic architecture of the 13th century in its most harmonious form, first used in Chartres Cathedral. The height of the arch of the great nave to the keystone is almost 38 meters. One of the unique details of the interior is the cylindrical pillars framed by a bundle of slender columns.

The layout of Reims Cathedral differs from the cathedrals of Chartres, Soissons and Amiens: it is longer, but not with such a high aisle and a shorter transept. Along the semicircular end of the choir is the deambulatory, which passes into a wreath of five chapels. The deepest of these is the central chapel, located on the main axis of the cathedral. In order to keep the main altar in the same place it had occupied in the former Romanesque cathedral, the choir was extended, taking up several spans of the nave as a result.

The portals of Reims Cathedral are decorated with circular stained-glass roses, rather unusual in composition. The largest rose replaces the traditional sculptural timpan of the central portal, filling the center of the second tier with a broad arch. Above the second tier is the traditional “Gallery of Kings” with a number of large statues.

Numerous stained-glass windows deserve special attention, among which there are both those preserved since the construction of the cathedral (13th century) and modern ones.

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Stained glass windows by Marc Chagall

The three stained glass windows in the central chapel were created in 1974 by Marc Chagall.The left window depicts the Tree of Jesse and the Sacrifice of Isaac, while the center window depicts the crucified Christ. The right stained glass window represents a major event in the history of Rheims Cathedral.

The Smile of Reims

The cathedral is also famous all over the world for its magnificent sculptures: the “Gallery of Kings” includes about 500 unique figures of bishops, kings, knights, artisans and even saints, which were created mainly in the XIII century. The famous cathedral is also called – “cathedral of angels”, so many figures of angels here, of which the most famous is the smiling angel at the northern portal. This image is even nicknamed “the smile of Reims”. This masterpiece of Gothic sculpture dates from the first half of the 13th century.

Reims Smile - Reims

During the First World War, the stone statue broke when it fell from a height of four meters. Its remains were carefully collected by Abbot Jules Tinault and hidden in a church cache. It was only after a meticulous restoration in 1926 that the “smiling angel” returned to the facade of the cathedral.

It was his enigmatic smile that the poet Olga Sedakova dedicated her quiet poem “Angel of Rheims”:

Are you ready? – smiles this angel. I ask, though I know that you are undoubtedly ready: for I say not to anyone, but to you, a man whose heart will not survive the betrayal of your earthly King, who here was crowned in public, and another Lord, the King of Heaven, our Lamb, dying in hope that you will hear me again; again and again, as every night my name is expressed by the bells here in the land of excellent wheat and light grapes, and the ear and cluster absorb my sound –

But still, in this rosy crumbled stone, lifting my hand, beaten off in the world war, still let me remind you: are you ready? To the pestilence, the glade, the cowardice, the fire, the invasion of foreigners, the anger moved on nigh? These things are certainly important, but that’s not what I’m talking about. No, that is not what I am obliged to remind you of. That is not why I was sent. I say: are you ready for incredible happiness?

Notre Dame Cathedral in Reims

The décor of Reims Cathedral

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Fragment of the “Last Judgment” sculpture above the north entrance.

In all, there are 2,303 statues of different shapes and sizes in the cathedral – the largest collection of stone statues in a single cathedral in Europe. Research has shown that monochrome sculptures in the distant Middle Ages were also in color. And now in the evenings, thanks to modern technologies of light and color projection, the medieval palette returns, painting the walls and statues of the cathedral in different colors and visually recreating their original beauty. There are two large bells in the south tower of the cathedral. One of them is called “Charlotte” (“Charlotte”), it was cast in the middle of the 16th century and weighs about 11 tons.

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Reims Cathedral during a light show

The crest of the roof is decorated with trefoils and lilies, as a reminder that it was here that the coronations of the Queens of France took place. They were seized and destroyed during the French Revolution, but were restored in 1924-26. The top of the facade overlooking the Tau Palace is adorned with a sculpture of the Sagittarius. At the base of the choir roof is another sculpture of an Angel. The tower above the choir is adorned with caryatelle figures along its perimeter.

During festivals in the summer, the cathedral is illuminated with colored lights in a “Dream of Light” (Rêve de couleurs) show

The Legend of the Holy Mother of Glass

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The Holy Veil, or Ampoule of Rheims, is a specially shaped vessel in the form of a phial which contained holy oil, allegedly used in the fifth century at the baptism of King Clodwig of the Franks. The original vial was essentially a vial of ancient Roman glass, about 3.8 cm high.

A portion of this oil was mixed into the ointment used in the church rite of anointing the monarchs of France during their coronation ceremonies. The first documented anointing with this relic is the coronation of King Louis VII by Pope Innocent II in 1131. The vitrene was kept in the Abbey of Saint Remigius in Rheims.

The holy reliquary in its original reliquary (lithograph, 1843)

The Archbishop of Rheims, Ginkmar, in an attempt to consolidate his church’s right to anoint kings for kingship, recorded an account borrowed, he said, from an ancient manuscript about the offering of the holy ampulla by a white dove at the moment of Clodwig’s baptism: Saint Remigius was in difficulty because the servant who held the vessel with the ointment was brushed off by the mob. The story began to pass from one writer to another, embellishing with detail. Aymoine in the ninth century already explicitly said that the vial was brought by the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. Guillaume of Breton in the 13th century told how the devil intended to destroy the soul of Chlodwig by the sin of impatience, and instructed an angel to bring the ampoule. The Catholic Church introduced prayers and hymns relating to that miraculous event into the coronation rites of the sovereigns of France, and the clergy of Reims preserved the shrine.

On October 7, 1793, during the French Revolution, Philip Ruehl, a member of the National Convention, smashed the glassware in front of a large crowd on the Place Royale in Reims. The statue of Louis XV, which adorned the square, had already been dismantled in those days and was being prepared for melting into artillery pieces. It was against the pedestal of this statue that the revolutionaries smashed the Glassware, and the remaining shards, as evidence, were sent to Paris.

In 1821, a man appeared who said that he had saved a shard of the miraculous vessel to which a drop of solidified oil had adhered. The chapter of Rheims recognized the shard as authentic, trimmed with gold and diamonds as part of the foot of a new ampoule in which almond oil was poured to the drop of saved oil, and Charles X was anointed from this new vessel in 1825.

The place of coronation of the 25 French kings is Rheims Cathedral.

Reims Cathedral is one of the masterpieces of 13th-century Gothic art. It is the national sanctuary, the site of the baptism of Clovis Merovingian and the coronation of many kings of France, a patriotic symbol during the Second World War and a symbol of Franco-German reconciliation. Rheims Cathedral has been the seat of the bishops since the first bishops of Rheims, St. Sixtus and St. Sinise (3rd century).

Place of coronation of 25 French kings - Rheims Cathedral.

Briefly about the most iconic bishops. At the end of the 4th and beginning of the 5th centuries, Bishop Saint Nicaise built the first Cathedral to the glory of the Virgin Mary. In 407 St. Nicaeus was martyred on the steps of his temple. In about 496, the fifteenth bishop of Rheims, Saint Remy, apostle of Gallo-Belgium and of Rhein, baptized Chlodwig the First Merovingian here. At the end of the 10th century the bishop was Gerber, who became Pope under the name of Sylvester the Second. In the 11th century, St. Bruno, founder of Chartres Abbey, became bishop.

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A 17th-century bishop, Blessed Nicolas Roland, an apostle of enlightenment, founded the Order of the Nuns of the Child Jesus. In the same century, Bishop Saint Jean-Baptiste de la Salle founded the Brotherhood of Christian Schools.

And at the end of the 19th century, the Social Catholicism movement was born here.

Place of coronation of 25 French kings - Rheims Cathedral.

There is so much to write about the Cathedral that it is hard to choose the most important one. I will briefly list the major events in its long history:

401 – the illumination of the first Cathedral by Bishop St. Nicaeus.

407 – the martyrdom of St. Nicaeus on the threshold of the Council.

496 (or 498) – Baptism of Chlodwig by St. Remy, this occurred on Christmas Day. 852 – Illumination by Bishop Henkmar of the second Cathedral, built on the site of the first.

1210 – fire destroys the entire city center. 1211 – The beginning of construction of the modern Cathedral. 1226 – King Louis the Ninth is crowned.

1429 – King Charles the Seventh is crowned in the presence of Joan of Arc.

1475 – Construction of the towers.

1481 – Roof fire: restoration of the upper part of the building. 1825 – Coronation of Charles the Tenth, the last French monarch (not counting Louis Napoleon the Third). 1914 – shelling and fire of the Cathedral during the Second World War.

1937 – consecration and opening of the Cathedral after 20 years of restoration work.

1962 – President Charles de Gaulle and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer celebrate Franco-German reconciliation in the presence of Archbishop Marty of Reims. 1996 visit of Pope John Paul II on the occasion of the 1500th anniversary of the baptism of Chlodwig by Bishop St. Remy.

Place of coronation of 25 French kings - Rheims Cathedral.

A bit of technical specifications:

There are 2302 sculptures in the Cathedral, of which 211 are 3 to 4 meters high, 126 are of medium height, 936 are small, and 788 depict animals of various sizes. The total surface of the stained glass windows is 3,900 square meters, of which 1,500 square meters. – is stained glass in color.

The building is 138 meters long (inside).

The height of the vault – 38 meters.

The width of the central nave – 12,5 meters.

The diameter of the large windows – the roses – 12.5 meters.

The diameter of the north and south rose – 9.65 meters.

The height of the towers – 81 meters.

Place of coronation of 25 French kings - Rheims Cathedral.

Around the cathedral you can walk for hours, looking at his sculptures. Especially the Western and Northern facades.

I will begin with the northern one, consisting of three asymmetrical portals. On the sides of the window, the roses of the northern transept, are the figures of Adam and Eve. The flamboyant Gothic style pinnacle is decorated with the scene of the Annunciation (1497): Mary agrees to bring salvation to humanity tainted by original sin. The window – rose represents the Church and the Synagogue, as well as the Ascension (1504). The window is surrounded by statues of kings, reminding us that the Cathedral is a place of coronation.

Place of coronation of 25 French kings - Rheims Cathedral.

The central portal of the North Transept is called the Portal of the Saints. It is dedicated to the saints of the Roman Catholic Church: in the pier is St. Calixtus, whose relics are kept in the Cathedral; to the left are St. Eutropius, her brother St. Nicene, and an angel. To the right are Chlodwig (his crown was broken during the Revolution, damn them, revolutionaries – to break is not to build), St. Remy and the angel. In the tympanum are the martyrdom of Saint Nicaise and the baptism of Chlodwig (row 1); the hagiography of Saint Remy (row 2); a scene of Job, apparently transferred here from another cathedral (row 3); continuation of scenes from the hagiography of Saint Remy (row 4) and Jesus with two angels. At the bend of the vault are images of the popes, patriarchs and bishops.

Place of coronation of 25 French kings - Rheims Cathedral.

The statues installed in the apertures are heavy-handed, indicating their age.

Place of coronation of 25 French kings - Rheims Cathedral.

On the north transept, in the left portal, the theme of the Last Judgment is depicted on a pinnacle. Below is the Resurrection scene, with the Virtues and Vices below, with the Chosen and Condemned below. In the center is God the Resurrection, on the archivolts (from left to right): on the left are St. Bartholomew, St. Andrew, St. Peter; on the right are St. Paul, St. James, St. John. Above them on the top of the archivolt: on the left are angels, deacons, and virgins of understanding; on the right are virgins of understanding, deacons, and angels.

Place of coronation of 25 French kings - Rheims Cathedral.

The right portal was built before the construction of the cathedral, and probably once served as a niche in the crypt (about 1180). The portal is decorated with images of Our Lady and Child.

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Place of coronation of 25 French kings - Rheims Cathedral.

And this is how chimeras and gargoyles “work” – gutters:

Place of coronation of 25 French kings - Rheims Cathedral.

And, the pinnacle of Gothic architecture is the West Facade. It is one of the finest examples of 13th-century French Gothic architecture. The clear lines of the façade point upwards, and, by design, connect the earth and the sky. Three portals with stunning archivolts and deep curves of the vaults correspond to the three naves of the Cathedral. The tympanum is decorated with abundant openwork decorations, but it maintains the iconographic unity. The main theme of the sculptural decor is the Holy Virgin Mary. The central portal – and this is its novelty – is dedicated to the Mother of God crowned by Her son (on top of the pinnacle). In the pier – Our Lady of the Rhine receives the faithful; to the right – the Annunciation and Our Lady’s visit to St. Elizabeth; to the left – the Presentation of the Lord.

Place of coronation of 25 French kings - Rheims Cathedral.

The second most important theme of the decor is Jesus. The sculptural scenes in the left portal are devoted to his sufferings: on the bends of the vaults are scenes of the Lord’s Passion, in the lancet pediment is the Crucifixion, in the bas-reliefs is the finding of the cross by St. Helen. In the openings are figures of saints and martyrs who announced Jesus to the inhabitants of Reims.

Place of coronation of 25 French kings - Rheims Cathedral.

The figures of the resurrected Jesus and those to whom He appeared are at the same level as the rose window: the figures of the travelers on either side of the window are facing each other, to whom the words of the Savior in the robes of a wanderer are addressed. On the left is St. John, on the north side of the tower is Jesus pointing out his wounds to St. Thomas. On the right is St. Magdalene speaking to St. Peter. On the south side are St. Paul and St. John the Younger.

Also here, the third leading theme is the anointing of the throne, which became a privilege of the Council of Rheims. Monumental reliefs above the window-rose depict David’s single combat with Goliath, while the curves of the arch vaults contain scenes from the lives of the Kings of Israel – David and Solomon, and the figures of the Old Testament Kings – symbols of French kings, whose sculptures just above girdle the bases of the towers.

Place of coronation of 25 French kings - Rheims Cathedral.

And this “Atlantean” supporting the stone is the builder of the Cathedral, his “autograph”:

Place of coronation of 25 French kings - Rheims Cathedral.

Interesting is the door, or rather its mechanism, with a weight that is pulled to counterbalance the door itself. Unfortunately, I did not manage to take a picture – people were walking too actively.

Place of coronation of 25 French kings - Rheims Cathedral.

Now a little bit about what is inside the cathedral:

The interior of the Cathedral is very harmonious. In plan it is a Latin cross, which includes a nave with side transepts (ten spans), a choir with a circular gallery and five radial-shaped chapels.

Place of coronation of 25 French kings - Rheims Cathedral.

The inside of the facade has an unusual appearance for the 13th century. The openwork tympanum of the portal with its ten gallery openings, and the large rose window give lightness to the whole ensemble. Around the portal are seven tiers with niches in which 52 statues are placed. From the bottom left corner: John the Baptist, Isaiah and David. Then from bottom to top: the angel announcing to Anna and Joachim the birth of their daughter, Mary; Anna and Joachim meeting at the Golden Gate; and Isaiah pointing to the manger. In the fifth and sixth tiers: the scene of the beating of the infants. In the seventh tier: the flight of the holy family to Egypt and two symbols of Mary’s virginity (the Unburnt Cupina and the Fleece of Gideon). In the lower right corner is the famous scene of the communion of a soldier, showing Melchizedek, the forerunner of Jesus, king and priest of the Most High God, bringing bread and wine to Abraham, who has returned from battle, dressed in 13th century robes. Above is John the Forerunner, pointing to the axe thrust into the trunk of the tree (a symbol of the coming Day of Judgment); then John, denouncing Herod in folly and representing the Lamb of God. Then the narrative goes backwards: there is the scene where Zacharias receives the news of John’s birth. Finally, at the top, the scene of Jesus’ baptism and sermons. These scenes are completed by sculptures on the outside of the facade which tell the story of Mary’s life.

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Place of coronation of 25 French kings - Rheims Cathedral.

The pierced central portal depicts Saint Nikes, the founder of the cathedral, killed by vandals on the threshold of the temple, taking his rightful place between two groups of angels and warriors. The side portals, badly damaged during the fire of 1914, are decorated with scenes of the Passion and the Last Judgment, subjected to the sculptures of the outer facade.

Place of coronation of 25 French kings - Rheims Cathedral.

Many of the stained glass windows disappeared as a result of attempts to “spruce up” the cathedral in the 18th century and after the bombing of World War II, but those that have survived are also of great interest.

Place of coronation of 25 French kings - Rheims Cathedral.

The large window is a rose on the late 13th century facade. The themes of the window resonate with the iconography of the portal and are devoted to the Virgin Mary; in the center – the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, next to her in the first row are 12 apostles, and in the second row are 24 angels musicians, ready to ascend after Mary into heaven; in the four-leafed circles are the prophets and kings of Israel – the ancestors of Jesus, meeting the Mother of God in paradise. This striking stained glass window, on the theme of the Christian holiday of August 15, the Ascension of Mary, reminds us that the Cathedral of Reims is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and her Assumption.

Place of coronation of 25 French kings - Rheims Cathedral.

The south window, a rose, restored after the storm of 1580 by the architect Nicolas Derode, and in 1937 by Jacques Simon, is decorated with the image of Jesus in a red cloak, surrounded by the apostles and 12 angels. In the corner is a scene of the coronation of the Virgin Mary into the Queen of Heaven. Mary is reunited with her son in heaven and awaits us all there.

Place of coronation of 25 French kings - Rheims Cathedral.

For me, the most important thing about the cathedral are the stained glass windows of Marc Chagall. Chagall, who grew up in the spirit of Hasidic mysticism, pierced all his works with them. Chagall’s stained glass windows around the world are his view of the scriptures, the “Chagall Bible.” They can be seen in France, Israel, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States. He was assisted by two master glassblowers, Charles Marc and his wife, Brigitte Simon, who at the time ran one of the oldest glass-painting workshops in France, in Reims. Their son, Beno, continues the tradition today. In 1971, Marc Chagall accepted an order to decorate the chapel. Charles Marc specifically raised old medieval techniques for this commission, and in particular rediscovered the blue color for the background composition of the glass windows, which was exactly the same as the blue tones of the 11th century glass windows of Reims. The middle section shows the two figures of the Old and New Testament, Abraham and Jesus. It depicts the most important moments from Abraham’s life – the covenant with God (with Yahweh), and the crucified Jesus. He is depicted in the red robe of Perfection, raised alive from the grave. The left window shows the genealogical tree of the kings of Judah – from the root of Jesse. At its top, Our Lady appears with the child in a green halo, just as the prophets foretold. The right window portrays the great moments in the lives of the kings of France and the coronations that took place in this Cathedral.

Place of coronation of 25 French kings - Rheims Cathedral.

The stained glass windows in the choir are stunning; there were originally two designs. The first was for the axial window: the Virgin Mary, the Church and the Archbishop of Reims; the images of the apostles and bishops, but for some reason they were removed for an unknown reason. Until today, the second version on the 11 windows has survived. It is Mary and Jesus, with the 12 apostles around. The remaining stained glass windows show Barnabas, Paul’s companion, and Luke and Mark. Axial window stained glass: in the center on the left is Our Lady with the Child, on the right is the Holy Virgin and St. John around the cross with the crucified Jesus.

Place of coronation of 25 French kings - Rheims Cathedral.

Look at how old and new stained glass windows combine: in the 14th century there were 9 stained glass windows with an anointing theme, with the king in his robes with heraldic lilies in the center, surrounded by church fathers and laity, and next to them are 20th century windows with the Prayer of Our Lady and the Champagne Wine window (Jacques Simon, 1954, reproducing the style of medieval glassmakers by color gombe); Brigitte Simon – Mark, who has the dominant gray tones. The eclecticism does not frighten anyone and is not at all unpleasant.

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